Likud secretly financed meme-style ads during the 2015 general election which depicted Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog as a cross-dresser and portrayed his partner MK Tzipi Livni as a friend of Hamas and Hezbollah, a Monday Channel 2 report revealed.
Zionist Union reacted with outrage to the reports, saying the covert ads should be outlawed and demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be forced to pay for them himself.
The photoshopped image of Herzog which made the rounds on social media had the opposition leader caked in makeup and wearing a pink wig with a black bow. The Hebrew word mahapach — which can mean “makeover” and is most widely used to refer to a dramatic political reversal — is plastered across the ad, mocking Herzog’s use of the word during the campaign.
In another ad, with the heading, “Here is the man who always answers Tzipi Livni’s calls,” then-Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is depicted with the word “Zibi?” inside a speech bubble. Zibi in Arabic is a crude word for male genitalia. In Hebrew it is used as a slang word meaning nothing, or rubbish, and here it’s being used to allude to how Mashaal would likely pronounce Lvni’s first name
Another video that was distributed virally and allegedly financed by Likud showed Mashaal, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at rallies, calling on their followers to “vote Tzipi.”
Channel 2 said Likud quietly reported the ads to the State Comptroller’s Office after the elections, and requested they be recognized as campaign expenditures.
Herzog, in a statement, said the revelation “prompts disgust and demonstrates Netanyahu’s distasteful nature.”
Livni, meanwhile, said, “The one who surrendered to Hamas, paid them (in the form of) thousands of terrorists in a prisoner exchange deal [for captured soldier Gilad Shalit] and negotiated with them to stop firing during Operation Protective Edge — was [Netanyahu].”
Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz, a former Labor party leader who is once again vying for the leadership position, said, “The comptroller must rule this was an incitement campaign and deprive it of funding. In fact, Netanyahu should fund it out of his own pocket.”
“An apology on his part won’t help,” Peretz added, because “Netanyahu will remain Netanyahu. An inciter and agitator who will stop at nothing to perpetuate his rule.”
Responding to the report, Nir Hefetz, who was charged with Likud PR during the campaign, said, “These materials never reached me and obviously not the prime minister… the prime minister is absolutely opposed to this type of campaigning.”
The report follows a similar story from the Haaretz daily earlier Monday which said that during the campaign Likud reportedly planned, and later scrapped, negative ads against then-US president Barack Obama. It relied on internal polls of Israeli voters that indicated most were negatively predisposed toward the US leader.
Likud commissioned 18 polls ahead of Netanyahu’s decision in December 2014 to call early elections.
On the basis of those findings, Likud had reportedly planned a negative campaign ad on social media, featuring an unflattering photo of Obama on the phone, with the tagline: “We aren’t interested in who answers the phone in the United States; we’re interested only in the security concerns of the State of Israel.”
The ad, which came against the backdrop of famously frosty relations between Obama and Netanyahu, was later scrapped, the report said.
The internal polls — long rumored to have encouraged Netanyahu to fire his then-finance and justice ministers, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, and call elections — were published by Haaretz for the first time, offering some insight on how the prime minister saw his prospects for victory before the election.
The report also said that Netanyahu considered declaring it would be his last candidacy in a bid to drum up more support, but withdrew from the plan when surveys showed that 85% would remain unaffected, one way or another, by such a pledge.
In December 2014, Netanyahu fired Livni and Lapid, accusing the two of attempting a “putsch” against him, and dissolved the government.
The decision by Netanyahu to call early elections has also been attributed to his opposition to a bill that would have curbed the Sheldon Adelson-funded pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom free daily and that had passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset with some rogue coalition support. Other observers have chalked it up to opposition to the so-called Jewish state bill, which has since been brought back on the agenda, with Netanyahu last week vowing it would be passed into law by summer.